Other Opinion: Lessons from Seattle’s outgoing police chief, and a Chicago slaying


Beleaguered downtown Chicago business owners last week participated in a sorry ritual — pulling out the plywood and boarding up windows and doors to protect against possible looting. Other business districts across the nation might have prepared similarly. Heading into a three-day weekend, who would chance it?

The damage to downtown Chicago from looting and rioting throughout the summer was severe. It took an economic and emotional toll on the city. Now we also know the looting did something worse: It escalated the violence. According to our sources, including in the Chicago Police Department, summer looting contributed to the mass shooting on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side on Aug. 30. The shooters and their target, the now-deceased Devon Welsh, were fighting over the dividing up of looted merchandise.

The perpetrators, whom police still are trying to apprehend, drove to a popular pancake house, stormed an outdoor tent where Welsh and others were dining, and opened fire. Police say at least one shooter then stood over Welsh and popped him several more times. Four other people were hit by gunfire and transferred to local hospitals. Children and families enjoying Sunday brunch ran for cover.

This, over looting. So remember: Looting isn’t just about stolen gym shoes or jewelry or people trying to feed their families, as Ariel Atkins, a Chicago Black Lives Matter protester, said last month defending the mass theft. It is criminal activity that can have grave consequences.

On Sept. 2, National Public Radio aired an interview with Carmen Best, the veteran Seattle police chief who quit after the city cut her Police Department’s budget, caving to the defund police movement. Her message and her advice could resonate with residents of any American city including Chicago. Here are excerpts of her remarks during the interview:


— “I believe in 100% that (the city was) putting me in a position of ‘destined to fail.’ Cutting into a Police Department that already had low staffing numbers, was already struggling to keep up with the demand, and then not including the police chief. I’ve been here almost 30 years in the conversation about what the future of policing would look like. … (They) let me know very clearly it was going to be very difficult to move forward.”

— “Many can be peaceful demonstrators, but we also had people that are showing up who are rioters, who are breaking property, who are assaulting people, who are trying to set the precinct on fire, and that is criminal activity. And we do need to address it. I’m not saying that that is a political partisan issue, but it is an issue of public safety.

— “When the demonstrations began and when these very violent groups embedded themselves among the peaceful protesters, we really didn’t have a sufficient way to separate the two and so we used (tear gas) and that really caused some problems for people who were there peacefully. … I’m still thinking that there’s a way to have conversations about how we might be able to have a different or better tactic in reducing and minimizing the risk when we have a crowd like that.”

Best offers sound advice. Police departments need to find ways to separate looters and violent protesters from peaceful groups. Police departments need support, not shrinking resources. And damaging property and stealing merchandise is not a political issue, it’s a public safety issue. Residents of Morgan Park on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side learned that lesson tragically on Aug. 30.

©2020 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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